April 26th, 2017

Recently, I was surprised to notice one of our most senior members enjoying a new smart phone. She hadn’t struck me as being particularly tech-savvy, so I asked her how she was making out with the device. She said she was doing OK, thanks to instruction that she had received from one of our younger members during a Senior Resource Day.

This is one of many examples of how our ministry reaches out to people and improves their lives. Often, we can’t measure what we’ve accomplished. It’s impossible to track how many victims of trafficking are discovered and helped as a result of our advocacy of training of staff in hotels. We can’t know how many people have been cheered by flowers blooming in our church garden.

But whether or not we can take credit for our ministry, we can be thankful that we are given occasions to serve in God’s name. —J. Douglas Ousley


Incarnation in the News

April 19th, 2017

Twice in two days. What a great Easter week for Incarnation.

On Easter Monday, The NY Times published a fine article that mentioned our outreach ministry to combat human trafficking. Our Associate Rector, the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser was quoted in the piece.

On Easter Tuesday, The Times published a wonderful op-ed piece by columnist David Brooks. He discusses how Incarnation Camp was and is for him a “thick” institution. Brooks is a strong supporter of the camp, which was founded by the Church of the Incarnation in 1886, and he sits on our Board (of which I am Vice-President.)

So, as the Easter music is still ringing in our ears, we are reminded of how much of the Church’s work goes on outside the church. —J. Douglas Ousley

Most Reverend

April 13th, 2017

At a clergy luncheon recently, I found myself sitting at a table next to a former Archbishop of Canterbury. He was erroneously introduced as “the Most Reverend Rowan Williams;” in fact, archbishops go back to being mere bishops when they leave office. The bishop has an interesting additional title, though, which he was given upon his retirement: “the Rt. Rev. and Rt. Hon. Lord Williams of Oystermouth.”

Bishop Williams has been writing furiously since he stepped down a few years ago. One hopes he will offer a memoir of his extremely controversial time in office, when the homosexuality debate rocked the Anglican Communion and caused a number of bishops to limit their contacts with the rest of our church. For this cautious, brilliant intellectual, the harsh politics of the worldwide church must have been painful.

On the surface, at least, things seem better today. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby had a good deal of diplomatic experience as an international businessman. The next Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 2020 looks to be better attended than the last one.

A nice thought as we prepare for Easter. —J. Douglas Ousley

A Generational Thing

April 4th, 2017

Our Suffragan Bishop made an official visitation last Sunday. Such a visit includes a review of the seven parish registers, which list attendance, membership, etc. As the Bishop was initialing each book, I noted that we usually have more baptisms than funerals. He replied that in many parishes he visited, the reverse was true.

The Bishop thought that the preponderance of deaths over births was “a generational thing.” It is certainly true demographically that a large cohort of the members of the Episcopal Church is in the Baby Boomer category, a generation that is on its way out.

This fact seems to me to be worth pondering on a theological level. We need to be wary of imposing a 60’s era mindset on the Church of the future, just because current leaders prefer to look at the world in this way. We need to remind ourselves that the future of the Church belongs not to us but to God. —J. Douglas Ousley

The Pleasure of the Text

March 24th, 2017

The noted French literary critic, Roland Barthes once wrote a book entitled, The Pleasure of the Text (Le plaisir du texte.) As the title indicates, the book describes the many joys of reading.

Our new Incarnation Book Club has been experiencing some of these joys. Our most recent meeting featured a spirited discussion of Muriel Burbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

One of the protagonists of the novel is a concierge in an upper-class Paris apartment building. Unbeknownst to the tenants of the building, she is an autodidact who is far better-read than any of the people she is subservient to. Happily, in the end, the concierge emerges from her shell and becomes the real and happy public self she was meant to be.

Most of us have a tendency to retreat into our private selves from time to time. Burbery’s book reminds us that the public selves God gives us can also bring us pleasure. —J. Douglas Ousley

Preaching to Ourselves

March 21st, 2017

Lent can be wearying. It can often seem longer than 40 days and 40 nights!

But one way to make the season more productive is to ask ourselves, what is this Lent teaching us? Are we learning to be more patient? This Lent, I’m watching what I eat more than usual and abstaining from meat, and I am reminded once again how much I love what I eat and how strong my appetite is. I’m grateful for that, of course, but I know that I need to reign myself in as well.

The very long Gospel readings teach us how complicated religion can be. Our faith isn’t simple or simplistic; it requires all that our minds can put into it.

Finally, Lent may seem long, but it does pass. And the passing time reminds us to measure our days and be grateful even for the challenges our days bring. —J. Douglas Ousley


Still On the Fence

March 14th, 2017

As I mentioned last week, the Vestry planned to discuss the current political climate during our annual Quiet Day on March 11.

The discussion did indeed take place, and while there were no startling opinions or conclusions, I felt the dialogue was very worthwhile.  Both conservatives and liberals were able (gently!) to let off steam. And the group generally agreed that in the midst of so many passionate views, our parish should remain officially neutral.

I recognize that there are good arguments for taking a stand against or in favor of the current government. But precisely because there are arguments on each side, I’m inclined to think that the best place for us as a parish remains on the fence. —J. Douglas Ousley


March 7th, 2017

Our Vestry has its annual quiet day this coming Saturday, and I have been asked to lead a discussion. The topic of the discussion is how parish life is being affected by the change of administrations in Washington.

Certainly, a lot of people are asking a lot of questions these days. Christians are not unusual in finding the current political scene perplexing. Many Christians who are conservative politically are finding it hard to confess to their liberal friends that they are Trump supporters. Many Christians who are liberal politically feel an alienation and a desperation that they haven’t felt in years.

I myself am trying to maintain a neutral stance in order to be available to people in both camps. I’m sympathetic to both sides, though I find the uncertainty in Washington troubling.

One thing we can be sure of, though: our President and the others in authority with him need our prayers!–J. Douglas Ousley

Symbols of Hope

February 18th, 2017

One of my colleagues addressed a clergy group this week on the subject of church buildings.

He pointed out that in very depressed communities, churches may be the only buildings still maintained with care. Because they are visible centers of vitality, they become symbols of hope to their surrounding areas.

Church buildings may also have an impact in affluent areas, like our own Murray Hill. They are the rare public spaces where you can enter without being under an obligation to buy something. They are quiet places where people can spend a few moments to think and collect themselves. If they are as large as Incarnation, this can happen in the back of the church even while services are being conducted in the front.

We who need to maintain these costly buildings don’t take them for granted. But we can be glad that others who don’t in any sense identify with the Episcopal Church as an institution still enjoy the peace of Christ that our churches offer. —J. Douglas Ousley

A Week in the C of E

February 8th, 2017

I just returned from a week in London, attending various services and meetings in connection to the Link Program between the Diocese of New York and the Diocese of London, which I chair.

The highlight of my stay was the farewell Eucharist for the Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres KCVO. The service was prefaced by Christian rock music and social media in the square in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The 20 or so bishops and 400+ priests then processed into St. Paul’s for a majestic Candlemas celebration attended by several thousand laypeople.

I was touched that I was mentioned in the service leaflet, and the Bishop made a special effort to greet me during the service and send his best wishes to the Bishop of New York.

Other highlights included taking the Sunday Eucharist at our link parish of St. Vedast-alias-Foster and then participating in the patronal feast of the parish on February 6. I met the soon-to-be priest-in-charge, the Rev. Paul Kennedy and enjoyed a festive reception in the nave of St. Vedast.

All in all, I am happy to report that the our Mother Church remains alive and well. —J. Douglas Ousley